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We Still Live Here (Âs Nutayuneân) cover image

We Still Live Here (Âs Nutayuneân) 2010

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Anne Makepeace
Directed by Anne Makepeace
DVD, color, 56 min., In English and Wampanoag with English subtitles

Sr. High – General Adult
Anthropology, History, Language, Native American Studies

Date Entered: 01/12/2012

Reviewed by Wendy Highby, University of Northern Colorado

We Still Live Here (Âs Nutayuneân in the Wampanoag language) documents the genesis and ongoing work of the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project. Members of the Wampanoag Native American tribes of southeastern Massachusetts are reviving their language through classes and language immersion camps. The language was thought to be dead, its last native speaker having passed away more than a century ago. The film features Jessie Little Doe Baird and her unique journey from nontraditional student to linguist, leader, and teacher. While the film is a fascinating story of applied linguistics and language reclamation, it also imparts a cultural history lesson that will resonate with every student of U.S. history. It was the Wampanoag people that had contact with the Pilgrims of New Plymouth Colony in the 17th century.

Linguist Jessie Little Doe Baird recounts how a recurring dream and curiosity about Wampanoag place names in the Cape Cod area led her to propose the language revival project to her tribes. When she was unsuccessful in her quest to locate a Native American linguist, Jessie took on the task herself. She received a year-long research fellowship from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was mentored by Professor Ken Hale, and eventually earned a master’s degree. She currently works with MIT linguist Norvin Richards on a long-term project, the writing of a Wampanoag dictionary. MIT linguist Noam Chomsky makes a brief appearance in the film, expressing his enthusiasm for the project. Jessie explains why the study of the Wampanoag language is essential: “We get to hear what our folks had to say regardless of what white people wrote in history books. And the only way we can hear our families, I think, is by knowing the language.” The documentary conveys a people’s history and describes how, in Jessie’s words, the “language can come home again.”

The integrity of the documentary springs from extensive interviews with Jessie and other members of the Wampanoag Nation. Jessie lists the multiple calamities that led to the loss of the language: death, displacement, war, and Christianity. Linda Coombs, Earl Mills, Sr., and others describe the trauma of epidemics, forced religious conversion, and theft of land rights. Toodie Coombs, Tobias Vanderhoop, and others discuss the new connections to family, culture, land, and ancestors that have arisen as a result of the language revival. Eva Blake explains that touching a Wampanoag historical document is like touching her ancestor’s hand. It evokes a symbolic connection like a “thread that is attached to me—to my ancestors—through my blood, through my body, and through my spirit.” These disconnections and reconnections are artfully depicted in the film by the animation of Ruth Lingford. The documents’ script unravels, disappears, and reappears; silhouettes of Wampanoag ancestors fade in and out. The film is expertly edited. Footage showing the work of language instruction and reconstruction is intercut with the interviews about cultural history, shots of the Cape Cod landscape, stills of historical documents, and Lingford’s animation.

The film ends both hopefully and realistically, noting that Jessie’s daughter Mae is the first native speaker of the language in more than a century. Jessie explains that children drive language change and speaks about the possibilities opening for the next generation. The Wampanoag acknowledge that although the language has returned, there is much left to do: “we’ve done great things but there’s a lot more work ahead of us.” We Still Live Here is documentary filmmaking at its best; it is both informative and emotionally engaging as it weaves a narrative of immeasurable loss and inspiring rebirth. Director Anne Makepeace is fluent in the audiovisual “language” of filmmaking. She meaningfully connects with her audience in this superb documentary of cultural survival. Viewers will come away with a basic overview of language reconstruction, empathy for the experiences of the Wampanoag Indians, and a more complete understanding of U.S. history. The film is particularly relevant for anthropology, linguistics, Native American studies, and U.S. history courses.


  • Moving Mountains Prize, Mountainfilm in Telluride
  • Inspiration Award, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival